Interview with Gracie Sutton

 Previous Fashion and Textiles Intern at Sambhali Trust

Fashion Correspondent for ORA Ethical Fashion


How did you become interested in fair trade fashion and women’s empowerment?

I first became interested in fair trade fashion after backpacking and traveling south east Asia and India in 2013, I saw the direct correlation between the developing world and the western world and the impact our purchases had on others. It was also the same year the Rana Plaza incident took place and I felt it was an issue as a fashion designer and consumer I could no longer ignore, I wanted to be part of a movement for change.  I've always been passionate about Human rights but since my first visit to india, working for another NGO I became especially interested in women's rights and empowerment. Again I saw first hand and experienced the discrimination towards women, I realised just how fortunate I am in the UK and feel passionate that women every where should have equality, safety, education and work.


What does the slow fashion movement mean to you…

Slow fashion means a number of things for me; it means knowing and understanding your source, appreciating artisans work, the time it's taken to produce and the skill involved. It's about recognising the people that make our clothes and not mass produced fast fashion. Slow fashion again for me is about purchasing clothes that will last a long time, are classical, stylish and well made. Lastly it's also about caring for our environment whilst producing products, so that each garment has as little impact on the world as possible.


How has your experience at Sambhali shaped or changed your views around this?

I think if anything Sambhali has only made my beliefs and views around this stronger, because I now truly identify with where our clothes are coming from. I see the time, attention and detail that each employee puts into her work and I see the impact that it has on the women not only financially but their wellbeing too.


How do you think the vocational skills being taught are improving the lives of the women at Sambhali Trust?

By providing the women lessons in sewing at Sambhali, the women have not only gained a skill but a livelihood. They are able to provide for their families, which in the long term will generate a better future for their children. They have also gained self confidence and self esteem, they are so proud of their work and take pride in each piece they create.


Do you think it is possible for these women to become eventually become completely financially independent?

I really hope that they can all eventually become completely independent and perhaps employ even more women. However for even the current Sambhali sewing employees their future and finances depend heavily on clients such as Ora and customers to buy their products, without this work they would have no income.

How do you see the future for women in India?

I find this a hard question to answer and one I think about myself constantly, I really hope that in the near future women will unite and battle against their patriarchal society and that they can determine their own futures. I think they still have a way to go especially in states such as Rajasthan, although I do feel with many organisations such as Sambhali educating women about their rights that things will inevitably get better even if the process is slow. I believe the next step however for real progress, would be to educate the men more about women's equality.


Fashion Revolution Week

Below are the beautiful women that make our clothes. From left to right we have Zinat, Sameem, Rehka and Shanaaz. 

When they asked what the picture was for and our correspondent in India told them they were going to be famous online for making clothes and they all fell about laughing. This week is not only to give garment workers and craftswomen the voice they deserve but to also make them famous.

These women are the heart and soul of ORA and each label should begin to understand the craftsmanship and skill it takes to produce our clothes. This week is to shine light on the unrecognized talent of craftswomen such as ours, to hear their stories and help people question the journey of their garments.

"On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,133 people died and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. Tragedies like Rana Plaza must never happen again. We want a safer, cleaner, fairer more transparent industry.
Fashion Revolution Week is a global movement that brings people from all over the world have come together to use the power of fashion to change the world.
Join us by showing your label and asking the brand ‪#‎whomademyclothes‬? "

- Fashion Revolution



Sambhali Trust

Each month we will provide our readers with the an entry from Sambhali's blog.

The personal stories and profiles offer an incredible and touching insight into the day to day life of a grass roots women's empowerment NGO in India.

Pinky's Story


As part of UN Women's 16 days to End Violence Against Women, Sambhali Trust interviewed some of the staff and women involved at the centres. This is Part 1 - an interview with Pinky, one of the students at Jodhpur Empowerment Centre.


By Beatrice Sell, Volunteer at Sambhali Trust

In most countries, there is an assumption that domestic abuse is limited to the confines of a couple. In India, this is further translatable as a married couple. However, this is far from the case. When speaking of domestic abuse, especially in this part of the world, it is crucial to recognize that abuse commonly stretches beyond the parameters of a marriage, to involve the extended family. Here, married couples are expected to live in the husband's childhood home, where the wife is subject to the authority of his family. Sadly, this additional dependency means that in-law abuse is a common occurrence across the country, and sadly Jodhpur is no exception. Rather, here at Sambhali it seems that the majority of women claiming domestic abuse will mention the involvement of their in-laws.


Pinky, a recent addition to Sambhali’s Jodhpur Empowerment Centre, is fighting to stay positive having emerged from four years of devastating abuse at the hands of her husband, and his family. To those acquainted with domestic violence, Pinky’s story is a familiar one. As is so often the case anywhere in the world, it was only after an initial honeymoon period that a pattern of abuse began to noticeably manifest itself. Following the wedding, Pinky had two peaceful months before her new family first exhibited the controlling behavior that would quickly escalate into psychological and physical torment.


'My mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and my father-in-law dictated my every movement. I was confined to one room, and not even allowed to look out of the window, or bathe, without their permission. My food was withheld from me, and I was forbidden to talk to any of the neighbors, or even my parents. I was like a slave, I had to clean and cook every day from before dawn to after midnight.’


Far from helping his wife, Pinky’s husband exploited the situation to legitimize his own cruelty - 'I never knew when the beatings would come next, once he pushed my head in the toilet because I placed something in the 'wrong' place. He beat me in front of his mistress.’

Hoping that a child might ease her situation, Pinky planned her pregnancy early in the marriage. However, the birth of her daughter only aggravated the cycle of abuse. Her mother-in-law especially would taunt her for failing to produce a boy, and would publicly label the child as illegitimate-accusing Pinky of an extramarital affair. While her husband did not confirm these accusations, he nevertheless maintained a level of antipathy towards his child.


Eventually however, Pinky did reach a breaking point. Upon the discovery that her husband made a living primarily from pimping, she offered to work for a cleaner wage. Desperately short of money, her husband presented Pinky with an ultimatum. She was given the choice of either formally prostituting herself; sleeping with her father-in-law, who in return would ‘give her anything’; or asking her own family for money. Knowing that her family themselves had been struggling with poverty since the payment of her dowry, Pinky was aware that they simply could not afford to support her further.


Her husband's obsessive demands for money were coupled with violent episodes. By this stage, he was drinking frequently and beginning to lose control over himself. Every day was a torment of aggression, and violent confrontations- ‘Once he tried to gas us with the cooking cylinder’. Since her wedding, Pinky had been threatened never to reveal her home conditions to her family, however her husband’s unpredictable behavior caused Pinky to completely break down in a state of terror. 'I would forget what I was saying mid-sentence, I was a mess. I was so scared of him, I eventually forced myself to tell my mother what was happening'.


By finally revealing the extent of her situation to her mother, Pinky broke the silence that had held her hostage for the past 4 years. It has now been 11 months since Pinky has estranged herself from her husband. Today, Pinky's primary concern is to achieve economic independence from her parents, to support her daughter and begin her life again. Two months ago, she was introduced to Sambhali Trust, and since then has been working hard to educate herself, and learn to sew in order to sustain a steady income as a seamstress. When reflecting on her past, she hopes that other girls in a similar situation will have the courage to leave their abusers. She says 'Indian tradition teaches us to accept everything and anything, and that it is our duty to hold our marriage together. But the abuse will never stop, and they will never lose the taste for violence. Never tolerate, always fight back.'

Withdrawn from Sambhali Trust's Blog